Pay Attention and Be Ready

Growing up my grandmother was always prepared by stocking up certain remedies ready in the event of a medical emergency…For instance, when I burnt my finger, she slathered butter all over the burn…Looking back, basically she was just helping to sauté my finger. We now know that cold water is the best action to take.

She always had Mercurochrome in the medicine cabinet. It was a multi-purpose red staining, mercury-containing compound used as an antibacterial antiseptic. She claimed it could be used for more than scrapes and cuts.   If I had a sore throat, she would paint my throat with this mixture using a q tip.  Not sure that was 100 percent safe!

We all have to be prepared in the event of an emergency.  We have candles in the event of a power outage – 911 on speed dial on our phones, and for many of us, insurance to help pay for medical expenses or car accidents.   I thought this morning I would check on how prepared all of you are.  I am going to give you three scenarios and you tell me whether the statement is true or false. 

Ok, here are three Survival Questions you should know how to respond in case of an emergency:

True or False – If you are hiking in the woods and become lost, you can find north by looking at how moss grows on a tree – false – moss grows on all sides depending on environmental conditions – don’t depend on this folklore for navigation.

True or False -you can use Doritos Chips as a fire starter- true – the dry coated chip makes a great fire starter and are ideal for kindling.  I will definitely rethink eating Doritos in the future.

Always carry one rescue mirror in your bag– False – carry 2 rescue mirrors. As the sun always travels south, it is impossible to use a single mirror to signal a rescue crew flying in from the north. If you have two mirrors, you can use the reflection from one mirror as a light source and reflect it from the second mirror. This enables you to signal north even if there is no sun present there to reflect light.

Today is the First Sunday in Advent and it is about being prepared for the return of Jesus.   Our Gospel Reading for today does little to lift your spirits.  It is an apocalyptic text, a text that forecasts the ultimate fate of the world.  But what is isn’t – is a Rapture text – As Lutheran Christians we don’t believe in the theology of the Rapture – an event that will leave some on earth while others will be taken up into heaven at the second coming of Christ.  Our Gospel text seems to provide at least on a surface reading an understanding of a type of rapture event.

 It all has to do with the translation of the verbs – and if you have ever taken another language, you know that word translations are not always apples to apples and in this case, it is more like apples to oranges.  But this is something to unpack in a Sunday School class with Pastor Ross!

     So if it isn’t about being left behind, what exactly was Matthew talking about?  This story is used to illustrate the sudden and unexpected act of God. Before the flood, people carried on with their daily lives — eating, drinking, marrying. But they knew nothing about future events until, suddenly, “the flood came and swept them all away.”   I am assuming that Noah didn’t give a warning signal that the flood was impending.  The listener would remember that the story of Noah in Genesis 6-8 calls attention to the unfaithful lives of many in Noah’s generation, a situation similar to that of Matthew’s own generation.

This scripture is perfect for Advent because Advent calls us into a perpetual waiting mode – to look back and forward at the same time – to remember and honor the birth of Jesus at the same time looking for the return of Jesus. We are to be prepared and to be honest – we are to be prepared for the return at any time.  The people of Matthew’s day truly believed that Jesus’ return would be imminent.  They were living in a world where the Roman government was crushing those who followed Jesus.

The early Christians had to worship in secret; they lived in constant fear of having to take an oath that declared the Roman Emperor their King and Lord; subject to no other.  Jesus’ return couldn’t come soon enough.

That was over 2000 years ago.  What does this mean for us in the 21st century?  Even though we don’t know when the second coming will occur, the fact that there will be the second coming is vitally important for our lives right now. Even though the people in Noah’s day didn’t know about the coming of the judgment, it still came. This text is not so concerned with describing the future as it is a call for repentance and discipleship and readiness right now. The text asks the question: what or who is most important to you now?

Do you continually love God and love neighbor in all that you do? Think about the many roles we have in a week’s time.  Does our behavior change?  Are there times when we act like “God isn’t watching”?

Look at all the ethical and moral shortcuts that are available and that many people in our society take all the time.  Whether it’s something big like the corporate scandals that brought on the financial crisis some years ago or drinking and driving after a holiday party; whether it’s taking the easy way out by pouring mercury into a river rather than going through the expense of disposing of it properly or whatever the scenario, people all over the place live like there is no tomorrow and as though no one who cares is watching them anyway.  But God cares…What we do matters, at church, at home, at school and at work.

I am assuming we can all agree that our work is important.  We need to provide for ourselves and our families.  In our gospel lesson, both the man and the woman were at their place of employment; They are busy at work. My guess is that the man working in the field is “left”, because he couldn’t leave his important work. My guess is that the woman working in the mill is “left”, because she couldn’t leave her important work. However, the gospel writer was telling Jesus’ early followers and he is telling us that there is something more important than your work: The Son of Man could come unannounced.  Jesus might show up unexpectedly and He won’t have an appointment.  What would you tell him if you were busy at work? “Don’t bother me now, I’ve got work to do. Come back during my break, then we can visit. Make an appointment with my secretary.” Or maybe “let’s talk about it when this wedding is over -this is just consuming my time now”

Matthew uses the example of the lives of the Israelites before pre-flood- the great sin of the people was not intentional immorality or blatant idolatry; but just too much emphasis on the normal cares and necessities of life.  They were too busy for God.  They were most concerned about eating and drinking.  Are we any different during Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s? Our concern about eating and drinking usually increases during the next few weeks and our time seems to be concerned with decorating, shopping, baking,  planning and attending parties. 

Do we put as much energy into preparing for the return of Jesus as we take in preparing for the holidays? Or how about taking care of our possessions?  We don’t know when a thief might break into our house, so we prepare for them at all times. We lock your doors and windows. We leave a light on when we are gone.      We insure our possessions. We do things now because a thief could come at some unknown time. Thieves don’t make an appointment.  However, this past week, Joe and I didn’t prepare for the theft of his fat tire bike.  We were neglectful in not putting it inside our garage.  I woke up Tuesday morning to finding another bike in its place.  Not sure if this was a thief with a conscience or just wanted an upgrade and we were left to dispose of his or her bike. 

     I am sure we don’t let just anyone into our house without either having a relationship with them or at least an appointment.  Most of us have a schedule and we plan meetings and dinners and other activities.  Our child’s soccer coach doesn’t just randomly call and tell us we have a game in 30 minutes.  We plan our shopping trips, we plan our vacations, we plan for our retirement.

     How should we prepare for the return of the son of Man?  We should pay attention.  Pay attention to the people closest to us; Love them like it’s our last day on earth.  Pay attention to the people we encounter. We may be the only example of Jesus they may ever meet. 

     Pay attention to the people least like us. This may be more difficult, but we are called to pray for our enemies; love those we deem unlovable; forgive even the most unforgivable.  Pay attention to what God is doing in the world and how God can use our voice, our hands and our feet to bring about peace and justice in this world

     Pay attention to ourselves.  Self-awareness is highly underrated. How will we be pay attention to our souls, spirits, and values during Advent? How will that self-awareness translate into how we spend our time? We never know what’s going to happen next, but faithful watching can help us be prepared for both the good and the bad, the delightful and the challenging.

Pay attention. And be ready.

     At first glance, this Gospel lesson doesn’t seem to scream “Good News”.  It almost has a works righteous flavor.  However, we know that because of the Grace that God’s bestows upon us that we have the privilege and the knowledge to be prepared for Christ’s return. Christ continually walks beside us, mourns with us and rejoices with us.  The Holy Spirit continually acts as comforter one who intercedes, and supports us, particularly in times of trial.

I wan to close with a quote from Max Brook’s book, titled The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead

“If you believe you can accomplish everything by “cramming” at the eleventh hour, by all means, don’t lift a finger now. But you may think twice about beginning to build your ark once it has already started raining”

Pay attention and be ready.  Amen.

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Sister Dottie Almoney

Director of Education & Outreach

Our youth grow into faithful disciples through education, fellowship and service. I am also excited about the new social ministries in which we are partnering with other Manheim Township churches, such as Lydia’s Closet and Homes for Hope.

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